5 Easy Questions for Mike Cohn

On this blog I have published interviews with Steve McConnell, Johanna Rothman, Alistair Cockburn, Scott Berkun, Mary Poppendieck, Grady Booch and many others. Everytime I ask the same five questions, and everytime I am pleasantly surprised by the answers I get.

Mike Cohn is the author of Agile Estimating and Planning, and User Stories Applied, listed at #11 and #15 respectively on the Top 100 Best Software Engineering Books, Ever. Mike is a founding member of both the Agile Alliance and the Scrum Alliance, and he has written numerous articles for magazines, journals, and websites. You can find Mike's blog at blog.mountaingoatsoftware.com.

These are the five questions I asked Mike, and the answers that he gave me…

1. What has been the toughest challenge in your past?

Probably trying to find the right work/life balance. I still haven't achieved it, but I'm getting closer. I took some real time off this year, which I don't normally do. I remember being on a plane about ten years ago. I'd upgraded to business class and was sitting in front of an older, very grandmotherly woman. She asked the businessman next to her whether he was traveling for work or pleasure. He gave some long-winded answer about his work and it was clear how important he thought he was because his company needed him, and they needed him to fly all the time including this sudden flight to Seattle. After listening to this guy puff himself off, the woman said simply, "My, how horrible that's the only way you can make a living."  It was one of the biggest putdown comebacks I've ever heard, and I don't know if she meant it that way. She was stunned and silent the rest of the trip. Her comment really stuck with me though through all these years–I travel a lot and absolutely love what I do, but it's a lot of time away from my wife and two daughters, so I'm constantly trying to find ways to achieve a better balance there.

2. What is the main source of inspiration for what you do?

Seeing a challenging project succeed. I don't care what we're developing–if software is involved it gets me excited.

3. What activity should be on every manager's daily list?

Talking to everyone who works for you and most of those who work for those who work for them. I look back on my career and can very clearly distinguish the jobs where I was good and the ones where I wasn't. The amount of time I spent talking to my directors and their team members is the key difference between the places I succeeded and the places I failed.

4. What can we learn from you in the near future?

I'm working on a new book that will be out sometime in 2009. I'd like to say late spring but that's hard to know right now. The book will be called Succeeding With Agile and I've used a working subtitle of "Getting Started and Getting Good." I'm sure that won't be the book's official subtitle, but it captures what the book is about. It's about all the things an organization needs to do to start becoming agile and then advice on all the things they need to do to get good at it. I've tried to make it so that the book can to some degree replace me at a client site. I'm quite excited about the book because I've had it in the back of my mind since 2004 and started collecting anecdotes and such for it back even in 2005.

5. What is more interesting than software development?

Right now I'm obsessed with the game of Go. It's a 4,000-year-old Oriental game. I'm reluctant to say it's like chess but it's that same type of abstract strategy game. I've enjoyed this game for over 30 years but I'm horrible at it. I'm finally making a concerted effort, though, to get proficient at it. What's interesting is that some of the earliest agile literature (e.g., by L.B.S. Raccoon in 1995) compared software development to Go and I've always felt that was a very apt comparison. And it may explain why my mind is drawn to both.

Well, these are the answers given by Mike Cohn. I hope you liked them!

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